Fox on the Run

During its first week on the air, Channel 31's news demonstrates a little substance and a lot of style.

If the established television-news purveyors in town were hoping that Channel 31's foray into their territory -- an hour-long broadcast unveiled at 9 p.m. on July 16 -- would stink like the cast of Survivor after a long day on the beach, they wound up disappointed. The initial broadcast by Denver's Fox affiliate, though larded with enough promotional footage to make it seem like an infomercial at times, was slick, watchable and seemingly built to last.

Yet comparisons to Edward R. Murrow will have to wait -- probably forever. After monitoring week one of the station's news fare, it was abundantly clear that it owed its accessibility to show business. That's how you spell "success" in the TV news game these days.

Specifics? You've got 'em.

The Fox News crew looks sharp.
The Fox News crew looks sharp.
Look familiar? The award-winning layout and the Post's.
Look familiar? The award-winning layout and the Post's.

Anchors away: The decision of Channel 9 czar Roger Ogden to let longtime sportscaster Ron Zappolo leave the fold was one of the most boneheaded in recent memory. Not only did his departure (along with that of veteran Ed Sardella) take the steam out of the 9News juggernaut, but it helped give Channel 31 instant credibility. Zappolo was every bit as effective delivering news as he used to be dishing out stats, and he had an easy rapport with Libby Weaver, an import from Chicago who so perfectly combines the physiological characteristics associated with the modern female co-anchor that she seems to have been built in a laboratory. Better ratings through science.

The other Sunday-Thursday anchors were considerably less effective. Weatherman Bob Goosmann, from Dallas, came across like an ex-jock in search of a tackling dummy, and his tendency to ramble caused several of his week-one forecasts to seem nearly as long as Roots. Plus, his idea of self-deprecating humor was to talk endlessly about what a tough time he was having accurately predicting the Colorado weather; there were even "On Target" graphics showing how close he'd come to guessing that day's high temperature. For an encore, maybe he'll trade in the Doppler radar for a handful of darts?

For his part, ex-Broncos-placekicker-turned-sports-anchor David Treadwell appeared to be trying way too hard; in contrast to the low-key, conversational approach that works so well for him on KTLK radio, he relied upon a loud, barking delivery, too-vigorous gesticulations and the frozen smile of a teenager caught in the boys' room with a slightly sticky copy of Hustler. Worse, his writing was bland and cliched even by TV-sports standards (egad!), and his boosterism was out of control. Treadwell's several gushing tributes to the greatness of John Elway, who spent the week playing decent but hardly extraordinary golf, made him seem about as objective as a Cuban national broadcaster praising Fidel Castro. ¡Vive numero siete!

The secret weapon: During his first few days on Channel 31, consumer advocate Tom Martino was like a beast unleashed. At the end of his debut report, he called what he does "media with a purpose," then declared, "I'm troubleshooter Tom Martino -- and I'm back" as if he'd morphed into an Arnold Schwarzenegger flick.

Of course, none of his shtick so much as resembles good journalism; even that initial story, about a landowner who'd turned his property into a trash heap, had more holes in it than Bonnie and Clyde. Moreover, three of his first five reports ended with him giving money, goods or services to people via his "Help Center" -- a tactic that turned the tales into tributes to himself. But while his rampaging egomania could be annoying, as it was during a July 21 report on camping gear that ran for a ridiculous four minutes, it also led to unintentional hilarity. Who else but Martino would start an exploitive look at a woman miffed that her surgically enhanced mammaries wound up larger than she'd wanted with the line "At first glance you see a very attractive woman with perfectly formed breasts"? Somebody turn a hose on this guy!

The supporting cast: Most of the week's reports were standard-issue TV fare -- but there's no denying that the crew giving them was overflowing with personality. Whereas the other local stations mainly feature generic pretty people who are fairly interchangeable, Channel 31 offered Friday-Saturday co-anchors Phil Keating, a flamboyantly hip party boy, and Shaul Turner, an instant diva who looks as if she'd give anyone who breaks one of her nails a good ass-kicking, plus a distinctive, multi-ethnic batch of reporters: James Earl Jones soundalike Will Jones, energetic, MTV-ready Whei Wong, killer yuppie Robert Thompson, news pixie Kim Posey, concrete-haired Friday-Saturday sports dude Ty Ray and more, more, more. It's like the cast of a new David E. Kelley show brought to life.

The news that fits: Keating landed Channel 31's first scoop, revealing that Rockies second baseman Mike Lansing had been on a ride-along with the SWAT team that killed Ismael Mena last year. But the piece left oodles of pertinent questions unasked, unanswered or unchallenged: When police spokeswoman Detective Virginia Lopez said no investigation of the matter was warranted, someone should have been found to dispute this ludicrous contention, which completely fell apart within hours. A report about water safety had a similar gap; it mentioned that it was inspired by someone at Fox but failed to note that the primary interview subject was the wife of Channel 31 news director Bill Dallman.

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